Israel and the Tar Sands


Friday, January 16, 2009


    That’s right, Israel is a player in the Tar Sands of northern Alberta in a multitude of ways and with a variety of impacts. While whole neighborhoods of a small Palestinian city are currently under one of the most one-sided bombardments imaginable, Cree, Dene and Metis populations– as well as the biosphere itself– are also getting their Zionist due in northern Alberta and elsewhere. People taking to the streets across what is commonly called “Canada” are rightly denouncing the total complicity of the Harper government (and the Ignatieff opposition) in Israeli crimes. Yet the other side of the operation is also in practice: The settler state of Israel is contributing to the decimation of indigenous territories in the tar sands regions through technology, investment and more. There is an interplay here as yet barely explored.

Many Palestinian solidarity activists within Canada have decried the Canadian government becoming, along with the USA, in total lock step with the Israelis on most votes, issues and declarations (even boycotting anti-racism conferences that dare to call Zionism racism). The reasons are usually understood as being ideological: Canada is an imperialist country, supports the US-led war on terror, and is also founded upon the same colonial settler process. Yet, there may be an even deeper connection between Canada, Israel and global battles for dwindling supplies of fossil fuel energy.

Unlike most of the region, Historical Palestine is not equipped with massive fossil fuel deposits, whether speaking of oil or gas. Much like how white-ruled South Africa developed technology to turn coal into oil during the time that their state was under sanctions or how the German Nazi regime turned to Estonian shale to produce oil during WWII, the Zionist state is surrounded by states they do not have trade relations with and has opted to produce very dirty forms of energy in a vain attempt to achieve energy self-sufficiency. They have large oil shale deposits. There are two parts to the Zionist energy strategy of note currently.

One of the attempts at this energy strategy traces back to the start up of the corporation Ormat Industries in 19651, oddly (given the lack of geology in historical Palestine for this plan) known primarily as a geothermal energy pioneer. This is not the only form of energy that is produced by Ormat, however. They are also heavily involved in what they call “Recovered Energy Generation,” a process that involves capturing waste energy forms from industrial development. One of these is a very insidious technology, designed to burn off literally the bottom of the barrel of the dirtiest of all “oils”, oil shale. This has been dubbed “cogeneration”. It can produce over 8 times more greenhouse gas emissions than “sweet, conventional” crude.

Unlike tar sands production, not even last years all time record highs for oil prices have yet made oil shale production viable or attractive, when one factors in the energy return on energy invested (EROEI). Virtually none of the worlds oil shale deposits have yet to reach a level of technological innovation to produce commercially (Estonia, with among the highest quality shales, being the only exception). But in what Zionists call Israel, “some 15% of the country is underlain by Oil Shale beds2,” according to an Israeli government website. And to get this “oil” (it would need a massive upgrading, conversion and refining process to turn the shales into a synthetic oil) at an energy dividend will require a lot of practice. Alberta has lots of bitumen that can be extracted in a very similar manner.

Ormat has figured out how to make EROEI come on the plus side a lot easier. Oil Shale will produce, aside from massive water waste and tremendous scars on the earth, a lot of left-over gunk. The gunk cannot be processed into anything resembling known fuels, but this waste will indeed burn. Ormat has found a way to partially power the very project that is carrying out the shale production with gunk left over from the extraction process. They have even patented the procedure, “OrCrude”3. Most importantly, Ormat is the parent corporation for the Canada based energy company, Opti4. Why did they do this? In their own words:

“In the early 1990s, Ormat developed a technology for producing oil from shale. But with oil prices low at the time, the Israeli government was unwilling to back an ambitious project to develop the country’s huge shale reserves.

Now, Ormat has adapted the technology for use in the tar sands of Canada’s Alberta province, where it’s being used in a project run by Opti Canada set to begin production this year.”5

Opti, in partnership with Nexen, runs by far the largest of all the Steam assisted gravity Drainage [SagD] tar sands projects. South of Fort McMurray, it is the closest of all major projects to a community. Anzac, a Metis and first nations settlement, is only 7km’s away from where this massive undertaking takes place. Having publicly celebrated their opening in October, 2008 this plant would eventually reach 140 000 barrels of mock oil every day, and produces many times the climate changing gasses as regular oil, more than three times the greenhouse gasses of a major strip mine (such as Syncrude or Suncor’s projects) or double what is produced by other In-situ (“in place”) operations that currently exist. There are already tailings ponds that are growing rapidly near this project, and the air pollution near Anzac will soon be off the graph. They also plan a twin project, Long Lake South, adjacent to the current plants.

These technologies, even with the use of “cogeneration”, still consume vast levels of energy and in Alberta this is usually natural gas. While OrCrude has reduced the reliance on natural gas, it is a long way from eliminated. With oil shale development will come higher natural gas requirements.

Off the coast of the Palestinian populated Gaza Strip is a massive natural gas field, only discovered in the year 2000. In 1999, exploration agreements (that eventually yielded the large discoveries) were established with the energy corporation British Gas(BG Group) and Greece based, Lebanese owned  Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC)  and the Palestinian Authority. This was a 25 year agreement. After the next years discovery and the following years election of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister of Israel, Sharon stated quite bluntly:
“Israel would never buy gas from Palestine.6” This declaration was followed by a Supreme Court of Israel challenge to Palestinian sovereignty over this natural gas, and his office vetoed the rights of BG to develop the field and sell Palestinian gas to Israeli buyers. After Hamas became the power in Gaza, even Britain’s PM Tony Blair moved to block a deal between BG Group and Egyptian interests to develop and market this gas. As retired Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon wrote in October 2007:

“It is possible that the prospect of a major natural gas transaction with the Palestinians has been a factor in the Israeli cabinet’s refusal to launch a Defensive Shield II operation in Gaza.”7

So, in terms of making oil shale viable, in terms of further strangling Palestine, in terms of controlling some level of fossil fuels in the region and in terms of gaining all revenues from the gas fields, it makes the most rational sense for the Zionist state to directly challenge the Palestinian sovereignty over the territory. BG Group canceled their plans to sell the gas to Israel and closed their offices two months after the Yaalon article went public.

It gets much worse. June 2008 was when the Olmert government began military preparations to assault Gaza, code-named “Operation Cast Lead”8 but it was months later that BG Group was re-approached by Israel to start negotiations on having BG Group develop the gas. While building military preparedness for the assault on the open air prison of the Gaza Strip, the same Israeli government changed the field of negotiations and began anew. Old contracts carried by BG Group for the region are announced as canceled by BG Group itself on their website, while ‘reassuring’ investors that they are “…evaluating options for commercialising the gas9” that legally belongs to the Palestinian Authority.

Of course, just as the state of Israel was founded on the myth that there were no Palestinians in the territory, the absence of government in Gaza– an intended consequence of the massive bombardment of the imprisoned territory– will be used as an excuse to simply take control of the gas, develop it and burn it to produce oil shale at the cost of the lands where shale is extracted and the very biosphere itself– not to mention the funds for crucially needed infrastructure within Gaza itself, after Israel has decimated schools, homes, hospitals, mosques and more. The Gaza Strip is to be left with destroyed infrastructure in order to prevent Gazan control over the development prospects and capital needed to rebuild.

Dene, Metis and Cree communities throughout the multiple areas in Alberta where tar sands are produced are already seeing the worst aspects of colonialism: in exchange for the destruction of their lands, languages, culture and history, the full value of the resources are being taken for mere pennies and what is left is a legacy of diseases, respiratory problems, alienation and ultimately cultural genocide. Yet the whole purpose for learning how to develop the oil shale in Palestinian lands is hardly less sinister: Israel, founded upon the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian population, cannot exist peacefully with its neighbours for mainly that reason. So, Israel has an energy problem as it currently exists. Alberta is providing an outdoor laboratory to practice what will eventually be the decimation of Palestinian traditional territory on the altar of the worst forms of oil and gas development.

Rather than honoring international human rights law and admitting every single Palestinian refugee back to live in their homelands and thereby likely receive energy supplies from neighbouring countries, Israel protects the apartheid conditions of its current state with the most destructive of energy strategy possible– in terms of human rights and in terms of the very climate itself. One, the above listed Israeli corporations helping Canadian settler colonialism in order to promote their own settler colonialism. Of course, of all tar sands mock oil over 70% already is directly shipped to the United States.

Canada has lurched headlong into quiet, no questions asked support for Israeli attacks on anything Palestinian (or Lebanese, Syrian and Iranian). There is little doubt as to the affection for US imperial policy that has been enunciated by the Harper government and the Ignatieff opposition. But the actual energy plays under way in a world of peak oil and increasingly desperate and destructive options that remain is an aspect of Canada that needs to be understood. Now, in more ways than ever, struggles for self-determination against Canadian colonialism and Israeli colonialism are interlinked– from one end of production through to the other, anywhere in the world that oil-based hydrocarbons lie– no matter what the cost, whether to the environment or directly to people themselves. This is the true meaning of Dick Cheney’s comments after 9-11 that “The American way of life is non-negotiable.”

Macdonald Stainsby is a freelance writer, professional hitchhiker and social justice activist who has been involved in several Palestinian solidarity organizations, including The International Solidarity Movement (Vancouver & Montreal) and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR). He currently resides in Edmonton, Canada where he is the coordinator of OST is dedicated to the full shut down of the tar sands and all related industrial projects across North America. He can be reached at